Satellite Orbits From Planet Earth

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1 Satellite Orbits From Planet Earth Grade Level: 7 Time Required: Several class periods, depending on research Countdown: 1 copy of table for each student 1 copy of Elliptical Orbits worksheet for each student Electronic texts, if available Printed resources Suggested TEKS: Science English Suggested SCANS: Interpersonal. Teaches others. National Science and Math Standards Science as Inquiry, Earth and Space Science, Science and Technology, Physical Science, Computation, Measurement, Reasoning, Observing, Communicating Ignition: Satellites are man-made objects or vehicles intended to orbit the Earth, the moon, or another celestial body. Probes are satellites that move outward and skim by other worlds, sometimes actually landing on them. Since the Soviet Union launched Sputnik in 1957, hundreds of artificial satellites have been sent into orbit. Satellites and probes can be classified into three groups, as follows: 1. those that observe the Earth 2. those that peer into space 3. the spacecraft that travel to other planets 4. Additionally, there are many types of satellites. Several are listed below, according to their purpose: 1. communications satellite - provides fast radio, telephone and TV communications 2. weather satellite - takes photographs of Earth, sending them down in the form of radio waves; forecasters show satellite pictures on nightly weather reports 3. remote sensing satellite - studies the Earth s surface and send back vital data about global environments 4. mapping satellite - takes pictures of the Earth and make exact maps (in the absence of clouds) 5. surveillance satellite - takes pictures of the Earth from 100 miles and higher (22,300 miles); recorders and cameras can listen in on walkie-talkie radio conversations, make out peoples faces and buildings, and even figure out the building composition 6. astronomical observatories - studies distant stars and galaxies, cosmic rays, and highfrequency radiation from deep space; learn about super-novas, black holes, and neutron stars 92

2 Liftoff: A. Initiate a discussion about the main orbit types. A satellite s orbit depends on its speed and distance from Earth. Below, the main orbit types are listed and defined. 1. LEO (Low Earth Orbit) - When a satellite circles close to Earth, it s in Low Earth Orbit. Satellites in LEO are just miles high. Because they orbit so close to the Earth, they must travel very fast (17,000 mph) so the gravity can t pull them back into the Earth s atmosphere. a. Polar orbit - A satellite in polar orbit travels a north-south direction. This makes polar orbits particularly useful for viewing the entire Earth s surface, since the Earth spins in an east-west direction. b. Retrograde - A satellite, which goes against the Earth's rotation in an east-west orbit, is called retrograde. c. Posigrade - A satellite, which goes in the same direction as the Earth's rotation, is called posigrade. 2. GEO (Geosynchronous equatorial orbit ) - A satellite in geosynchronous orbit (GEO) is located directly above the equator, exactly 22,300 miles out in space. At that distance, it takes the satellite 24 hours to circle the planet. Since it also takes Earth 24 hours to spin on its axis, the satellite and earth move together. 3. Elliptical Orbit - A satellite in elliptical orbit follows an oval-shaped path. One part of the orbit is closest to the center of the Earth (perigee) and the other part is farthest away (apogee). B. Ask students to determine which types of orbits would best fit the different kinds of satellites, and complete the table. (Student table attached.) Satellite Type of Orbit(s) Communications Weather Remote Sensing Mapping Surveillance C. Using the information given on elliptical orbits, ask students to complete the Elliptical Orbit worksheet. (Attached) 93

3 D. Ask students to formulate questions about satellites and then research specific satellites and probes. Examples include: Hubble Space Telescope International Ultraviolet Explorer (IUE) Infrared Astronomical Satellite Viking I & Viking II Voyager 2 the Mariner Series Tenma (Japanese) Sputnik (Russian) More Ideas Research the anatomy of a satellite. One resource might be The Satellite Site located at: ( Make a satellite through an interactive program, Satellite Construction Set. Use the same link as listed above. 94

4 Student Satellite Worksheet Satellite Type of Orbit(s) Communications Weather Remote Sensing Mapping Surveillance 95

5 Elliptical Orbits Many satellites have orbits that look like ellipses, or ovals. Using the definitions given below, label the parts of an elliptical orbit on the diagram. If you know an orbit has an eccentricity of 9.1 and a semi-major axis of 40,000 km, use the equations below to calculate these quantities: 1. rp = 2. rap = 3. e = Planet Definitions semi-major axis (a): the distance between the center of the ellipse and the outer edge in the long direction semi-minor axis (b): the distance between the center of the ellipse and the outer edge in the short direction radius of perigee (rp): the distance from the center of the planet to the point of closest approach for the satellite radius of apogee (rap): the distance from the center of the planet to the point in the orbit farthest from the planet 4. a = 5. b = a = (r ap + r p) 2 e = (r ap - r p) (r ap + r p) r p = a(1 - e) r ap = a(1 + e) b = r ap r p eccentricity (e): the measure of how "squashed" an ellipse is; i.e. the distance between the center of the planet and the center of the ellipse Fun Facts A satellite can either be natural like the Moon or artificial like the Hubble Space Telescope. A circle is actually an ellipse with zero eccentricity (e = 0). For a circular orbit, the semi-major axis, the semi-minor axis, the radius of perigee, and the radius of apogee are all equal (a=b=rp=rap). People who plan satellite orbits study orbital mechanics. If you are interested in the motions of satellites, planets, or exploratory spacecraft (like Voyager), you should plan on being an aerospace engineering major in college. 96

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